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True Hallucinations by Terence McKenna. Harper San Francisco, 1160 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111, 1993; 244 pp., $14.00 (paper). Reviewed by Jordan S. Gruber.
Overall Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Difficulty Level: 7 (out of 10)
Recommendation: A wonderful story (but not as good as the audiotape)
Fate would have it otherwise. Their attention soon turned to the large numbers of Stropharia cubensis that they lucked upon, and before long Terence and especially Dennis were formulating the psychopharmacological "experiment at La Chorrera" which would eventually give rise to Terence's expanded Jungian notion of the UFO as human oversoul and his I Ching based timewave theory which holds, among other things, that history as we know it is accelerating and, in fact, will come to an end sometime during the beginning of the next century (more precisely, in December of 2012, in accordance with the Mayan calendar).
It is hard to know what, exactly, to make of this self-described "minor icon in the culture of the underground."
On the one hand, McKenna, who possesses an enormously rich and evocative bardic vocabulary, is unquestionably brilliant and stimulating, with a depth of cultural perspective and psychedelic vision that is both illuminating and provocative. On the other hand, while some of McKenna's wilder claims are obviously meant to be myth or poetry and not science per se, occasionally McKenna still comes off as seeming quite fringey. A huge saving grace, however, is McKenna's sense of humor about himself, and his frank admission that in a certain sense he is merely a communicator for ideas of a transcendental original, or more precisely, that he plays the role of hyper-dimensional memetic transducer. In the preface he writes:
I realized that my innate Irish ability to rave had been turbo-charged by years of psilocybin mushroom use. Aided by my devotion to psilocybin and the experiment at La Chorrera I had apparently evolved into a sort of mouthpiece for the incarnate Logos. I could talk to small groups of people with what appeared to be electrifying effect about the peculiarly transcendental matters that you will read about in these pages. It was as though my ordinary, rather humdrum personality had simply been turned off and speaking through me was the voice of another, a voice that was steady, unhesitating, and articulate - a voice seeking to inform others about the power and promise of psychedelic dimensions.
This steady, unhesitating, and articulate voice has had its effect, for it is McKenna who has commanded some of the biggest audiences and most enthusiastic responses at psychedelic and alternative consciousness conferences and events of all types.
The importance of True Hallucinations, then, is two-fold. First, it provides us with a highly personal, fascinating, and fast-moving chronicle of McKenna's voyages in the Amazon. As the book jacket says, "Hip, humorous, hallucinogenic - this cross between Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas depicts a renegade explorer's pivotal 'expedition into uncharted terrain.'"
Second, and more importantly, True Hallucination enables us to see and share the genesis of McKenna's most interesting and startling ideas. While his other books - including the recently published Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (1992; reviewed in GNOSIS #24, Summer 1992) and The Archaic Revival (1992), and the older and soon to be re-released The Invisible Landscape (1975, co-authored with Dennis McKenna) - respectively go into much more detail about psychopharmacology, the role of naturally occurring plant psychedelics in the evolution of human language and civilization, and the timewave theory, it is in True Hallucinations that we really learn who Terence McKenna is and how he got to be that way. In short, True Hallucinations is an important book because Terence McKenna is himself an important figure in the consciousness and psychedelic undergrounds, and it is through this book that the illuminator is partially illuminated.
The book, however, does have a significant shortcoming, namely, it is not nearly as enjoyable as the cassette-taped version of True Hallucinations put forth in the mid 1980s. McKenna began writing the book version in 1977, and in 1984 or so he read the manuscript onto tape. A finished, well-produced 8-cassette version, featuring Terence's distinctive voice and exceptional articulation, marvelous sound effects, and original rock music, was then sold into the marketplace. (It is currently available from Sound Photosynthesis, of Mill Valley, California, (415) 383-6712, for $80.00 plus shipping.) Although it is true that the book version is somewhat different from the tapes - some chapters and themes have been added, including a very revealing epilogue, while other chapters and themes have been entirely or partially omitted) - it is also true that listening to the taped set "ruined" the book for me. The book has some advantages too, of course: more time to digest difficult passages (some of the psychopharmacology can be rough going), no hard-to-hear portions, and (for some) the absence of Terence's distinctive voice. I would, however, recommend reading the book first, and then treating yourself to the taped version.
In short, this book, whether in book or tape form, should not be missed by fans of Terence McKenna, or by serious students of the psychedelic movement or alternative consciousness undergrounds. Both travelogue and travelogos, True Hallucinations points straight to the heart of certain Mysteries as only Terence McKenna can.